Saturday, September 13, 2014

"National security" or "National's security"?

So, John Key has decided to double down on Glenn Greenwald's revelations about GCSB spying, promising to declassify and release documents showing that a proposed panopticon was discussed but never implemented:

Mr Key has admitted for the first time that yes, New Zealand spies did look into what he calls a "mass protection" option that he concedes could have been seen as "mass surveillance" or "wholesale spying", but that, and this is the important bit, he says it never actually went ahead.

Mr Key has revealed that after two major cyber-attacks on New Zealand companies, in late 2011 and early 2012, the GCSB stared to look at options with the help of partner agencies like the NSA.

But Mr Key says this idea never got past the business case stage because he deemed it too invasive.

This was before the Snowden leaks, and Mr Key says the fact he said no is why he has been able to be so resolute that there was no mass spying on Kiwis.

Mr Key believes that Snowden and Mr Greenwald have presentation slides, documents and wiring diagrams relating to the mass protection/surveillance option, but says they are missing the crucial fact that it never went ahead.

Mr Key has promised to declassify and release top-secret documents proving this, either tomorrow or the next day, getting in ahead of Dotcom and Mr Greenwald.

Firstly, I welcome this release. The more we know about what our spies are doing in our name, the better. And if they planned a panopticon, we need to know, so we can sack everyone responsible and never let them work in a public service role ever again.

At the same time, it should make all of us uncomfortable for what it reveals. As the SIS's Security in the Government Sector manual makes clear, information is supposed to be classified only for valid reasons of national security. Looking at similar NSA documents, the information Key wants to release is likely classified SECRET or TOP SECRET. That means its release would cause "serious" or "exceptionally grave" damage to security or intelligence operations (see p. 55 - 58). You and I may not agree with those operations, or their idea of "national security", but Key and the GCSB supposedly do - and those concerns don't disappear simply because the PM decides it would be politically useful to release. Unless of course in their eyes, "national security" means "National's security".

Its worth remembering that Key and his office are already under investigation by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security for politically-motivated declassification decisions. I think this proves the case. It also shows that our "national security" apparatus is politicised and rotten to the core. Time to shut it down.

Finally, consider this: what makes public servants pay attention to the classification system and its security theatre? Because they believe that its actually about "national security". The Prime Minister has just shown that its not, and is treating it like a joke. There's now no reason for anyone in the GCSB, NZDF, SIS or MFAT not to do the same. My PGP key and email address is in the sidebar, and I'll publish anything classified you send me. Let the leaks begin!